By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
To hear Jennifer Tveraa talk, there should be more mentors working in the Havre Mentoring for Tomorrow program than there are children to be mentored.
"I love it. It's just so much fun," said Tveraa, who mentors 11-year-old Andrea Dess. "You get to drop down and be a kid again."
But the program, administered by District IV Human Resources Development Council, has a short supply of mentors to spend time with local children. Rebecca Sheffield, one of the coordinators of the program, said about 40 children have applied for mentors, but there are only seven available. Seven more are in training.
"They're kind of in the works," Sheffield said. "There is definitely a need for more mentors."
After an application process that includes a background check and a short training period, Sheffield and Anna Emrick, the other program coordinator, match the mentor with a mentee. The coordinators join the mentor and mentee for their first meeting, then the pair are supposed to meet at least once a week for one to two hours and meet at the pupil's school for lunch once a month. HRDC also holds a group meeting once a month for all children interested in the program.
The coordinators keep in touch with the mentors and mentees, and are available if there are problems or questions or if the mentor just needs suggestions in case ideas for activities run short, Sheffield said.
"We're always available. We don't want them to think they're on their own," she added.
Sheffield said many of the children who don't have mentors yet come to the monthly group meetings, which include activities like crafts and games.
"It's neat because it shows how much they want to participate in the program," she said.
Dess said she first got into the program going to the monthly group meetings, which she found out about from her friends. When she learned that she could have a mentor spend time with her each week, she signed up for that.
The program has been a lot of fun, Dess said, and she would recommend it to other children.
"They would probably love it," she said, adding that she likes Tveraa and they do a lot of different things together, from going to the movies or doing things outdoors to baking cookies at Tveraa's home.
Tveraa said she usually has several suggestions for activities each week, then asks Dess what she would like to do and lets her decide.
"Within reason," Tveraa added. "She's usually pretty reasonable."
Emrick said the program is open to any child in grades 5-7. Sometimes the child is the one who wants to have a mentor. Sometimes it's the suggestion of the child's parent. Both have to sign the application, she said.
The program doesn't target a particular group of children, but it often attracts children from single-parent families, low-income families, or families with two working parents, she said.
Sheffield, who started working as a coordinator in September, a couple of weeks after Emrick started, said she has seen improvements in children in the program.
"It makes an impact," she said.
For example, Sheffield said, one girl was withdrawn and cried easily when she started.
"She's gotten more confidence. You can see it," Sheffield said. "She seems happier. She talks about how she loves (being mentored.)"
A boy in the program seems proud about being mentored.
"He feels it's something special that's his own," she said.
Emrick said some of the goals of the program are to help children improve their self-esteem, build their self-confidence, improve their school performance and help them learn how to make responsible decisions.
Tveraa said it's rewarding to be a mentor, "being able to help one family or one person who needs a little extra love."
She said it's not hard to find the time to be with a child. She has a 16-month-old daughter but is able to spend time with Dess each week.
"The minimum requirement is like an hour a week. I think anybody could swing that," she said.
The mentors must be at least 17 and a junior in high school.
Sheffield said she thinks more people would be interested in mentoring if they knew more about the program. The Montana State University-Northern Office for Community Involvement has been recruiting college students, and that is working well, she said. There is no upper age limit, and she thinks people who are older than traditional college students also would enjoy mentoring.
"No one should think they're too old," Sheffield said.
She said some people might be intimidated by the program, thinking it takes a large time commitment or a lot of money to find activities for the mentees. That isn't the case, she said, adding that she and Emrick are always available to help the mentors. The program can even help arrange cost reductions in local activities like skiing or bowling through coupons or arrangements with businesses.
"All you have to do is be a friendly person, have fun. All you have to do is be a friend for a couple of hours a week," Sheffield said.
For more information, contact Emrick or Sheffield at 265-6743, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.